The Cincinnati Bengals had only two players make the Pro Bowl this season. Nobody could legitimately argue against the inclusions of AJ Green and Geno Atkins on the AFC roster. In fact, the only real argument that could be made is that Green was deserving of being a first-team all-pro selection, like Atkins was, although that argument is tough considering the seasons Calvin Johnson and Brandon Marshall both had. Instead of focusing on who made the roster, however, this is the perfect time to credit those who were overlooked as players begin to arrive in Hawaii.
For the Bengals, that means discussing a number of players.
First and foremost on that list is offensive guard Kevin Zeitler. Zeitler may have been a rookie in 2012, but he quickly became a pivotal part of the Bengals’ offense. He started every single game for the Bengals, notching 1,128 snaps during the regular season and in the wildcard round of the playoffs versus the Houston Texans. Despite being a rookie in one of the toughest divisions in the league for an interior offensive lineman, Zeitler impressed from his very first snap and only had one real poor performance all season long. That came against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 16 of the regular season – a game when Casey Hampton and Steve McLendon proved to be at their very best for the Steelers.
Zeitler was also the only constant upfront for the Bengals. Although youngster Clint Boling also started every game at the other guard position, he didn’t enter training camp as a starter. Boling only played when Travelle Wharton went down with a season ending injury in the pre-season. That coupled with a rotation at center between an underperforming veteran, Kyle Cook, and an undrafted rookie, Trevor Robinson. Zeitler kept performing amidst those breaks in continuity, something very impressive for a young guard.
While being a constant presence, Zeitler was also a key piece of the Bengals’ balanced attack. Much of the team’s play-action would be designed to run through handoffs over right guard, while was often the catalyst for BenJarvus Green-Ellis breaking free into the secondary for his big runs. By all accounts, Zeitler played like a player deserving a Pro Bowl trip, but with the flawed voting process, he never stood a chance against the more recognizable names of the veterans.
On the AFC side, Logan Mankins, Marshall Yanda and Wade Smith took the guard spots on the roster. Yanda is a superstar player who is enjoying a superstar season, while Mankins is a superstar player who has had to fight through injuries. Wade Smith is one of the Houston Texans‘ famed zone blockers, but he didn’t have a good season by any measurement.
There is no argument against Yanda as a starter; he has been a leading star for the Baltimore Ravens this year during their Super Bowl season. However, the New England Patriots‘ Mankins missed six starts in the regular season, and wasn’t massively missed. He played just 906 snaps including their two playoff games, and was very inconsistent from game-to-game. It’s hard to say that Mankins actually earned a spot on the Pro Bowl roster, because he had as many negative plays this season as he did positive. Much of his positive work came after the voting had ended also.
It’s often said that you earn a trip to the Pro Bowl based on your previous season. Smith is the perfect example of a player taking advantage of that. Smith had a fine year last season when he was a key performer for one of the best regular season teams in the league, but he never reached the same heights this season. He was a constant starter, playing almost 1,400 snaps, but feasted on weaker opposition for the most part when he played well, something that was a rare occurrence. Smith allowed 22 quarterback hurries, five hits and two sacks during the season, however, he also wasn’t as impactful as a run blocker, so much so that he earned a negative grade from Pro Football Focus.
Having played so well this season, Zeitler should feel aggrieved to not be on his way to Hawaii right now. Even with Yanda pulling out to play in the Super Bowl, his spot went to Richie Incognito of the Miami Dolphins. Who knows? Maybe, like Smith, he will earn his spot for next year from his work this season.